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A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC.  Mark 1:29-39.  February 5, 2006.


In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

– Mark 1:35


            In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark we can find several possible sermon themes.  For example, we could look at the healings and casting out of demons that happened in this passage.  We could focus on the fact that people were searching for Jesus.  We might also work from his sense of vocation when he said, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 


            What I wish to focus on today, however, is verse 35 where Mark tells us, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  I have chosen this verse because Mark evidently thinks it is important – important that Jesus did it, and important for those who read his Gospel.


            In my study of this passage, I compared different translations and paraphrases for what in our pew Bibles is called “a deserted place.”  What I found was that some say “a desert place” (ASV), others “a quiet place” (BBE), “a place where he could be alone” (CEV, GW), “a solitary place” (GB, KJV, NIV), “a lonely place” (GNB), and “a secluded place” (MSG).  In all of them there is a strong indication that Jesus needed time alone – apart from the demands made upon him, and this is especially evident where it is rendered as “a place where he could be alone.”  And the second thing that we may draw from this verse is that Jesus renewed his spirit – his very soul – in this time of retreat.


            These then are the two points that I want to dwell on this morning:  first, that if we don’t already have one, we also need to find a place of retreat.  And secondly, the importance of spending time in prayer and finding our spirits – and our lives – renewed. 


            So then, a place of retreat.  Let me ask if any of you have a special place where you go when you need to be alone?  It may be outdoors or indoors.  You may like to go the Laurentians, or one of the rivers or lakes, or the cross on the mountain, or the golf course, or some other place.  Or maybe you do not get out and about, but in your home you may have a special chair, or corner, or some other special place where you light a candle, read the Bible, and have a time alone with God.  Or you may be one of the ones who comes during the day to sit and pray here in the church.  Or in some other church. 


            Then again, perhaps your place of retreat is an interior space within you that you go to.  A space where you are able to tune out distractions and be alone with God.  I know of people who do that on the Metro, can you believe it?


            I will venture to say that each of us needs some such place or space.  Some place where we can get away from the daily demands that are made upon us, and allow our spiritual side to unfold and bloom.  Sharon Johns, our Conference Personnel Minister, speaks of how we need Sabbath Time.  That is another way of talking about the same thing:  the need we all have for time apart and a secluded place of retreat where we can be alone – where we can connect more intimately with God and be renewed.  If you do not have such a practice, and a place or some kind of inner space to do it, I encourage you to do so.


            My second point goes with the first – the importance of our prayer life.  Just as Jesus needed to pray, so do we.  Would you take a moment now and think of how you learned to pray . . . .  Who taught you to pray?  Did you learn in your home, in the church, or somewhere else?  Did you learn from a parent or other family member, from a Sunday school teacher, or someone else?  I remember that for me it was a parent who taught me that little bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.  Later during adolescence, my experience of praying out loud in front of others began in church camp.  Each evening in our cabin just before lights out, our Counsellor would talk about how prayer was just talking with God, and how natural it is.  And he would invite us to take a turn at praying aloud as God led us.  When you are 12 or 14 years old, at the end of six days at camp you can become pretty confident about praying out loud in the presence of other people.


            There are, of course, many things we can discuss about prayer, but what I think is most important for us to draw from this scripture passage is that this was a time of renewal and restoration for Jesus.  And so it can be for us when we take time each day to bring ourselves into God’s presence and talk with God.  To open our hearts and lives, and share whatever concerns we have.  And to experience the blessedness of being aware of God’s presence.  You may want to take a verse of scripture, or a special prayer-word, and focus on that during your prayer time.  You may want to use the “Jesus prayer,” which is “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me.” 


            Many people pray alone, but there are others who find a special blessing in gathering with two or three or four others once a week or so to share their concerns and pray for each other – as well as for concerns beyond themselves.  And sometimes spouses even pray together. 


            And whenever you pray and bring yourself and your concerns to God, listen for what God is saying to you.  If you have a sense of some particular message, you may want share that with your group, or to write it down. 


            You know, it is interesting how at one time this kind of prayer was very common in the churches.  More recently, modern people have felt they were too sophisticated or too secular for this approach.  Yet, it is coming back, and it is coming back in churches like ours as people learn that they need a closer walk with God, and they need more inspiration and more daily strength than they can generate by themselves or from watching television.  And so they are finding their way back to spiritual disciplines that had been forgotten – things like retreat and Sabbath and prayer. 


            Wherever we find our place of retreat, and however we open to God in prayer, may they be places and times that renew us, restore us, and empower us to dynamic Christian living as we continue in the ministry of Jesus Christ.